Cultural historian Riane Eisler talks some practical politics in her Alternet post “The Ignored Issue That Can Get Progressives Elected.” Eisler makes a point that has been made many times before, though less frequently in recent years — that the health and well-being of America’s children is a unique coalition issue that can bring diverse constituencies together and empower progressives (read Democrats) to win big next year. Eisler cites polling data from an unusual source, The Barna Group, “a Christian polling organization,” noting:
The poll asked conservatives and liberals, whites and blacks, men and women, Christians and non-Christians which of 11 changes were “absolutely necessary” for the United States to address within the next 10 years. The 11 ranged from national security and environmental protection to the state of marriage and families and the spiritual state of the country. But the issues that emerged as the frontrunners were “the overall care and resources devoted to children” and “the quality of a public school education.” That was the response by 82 percent of the adults surveyed.
Eisler feels strongly that progressives have underemphasized child health and welfare in recent political campaigns, and the Barna Group poll suggests she may be on to something. Republicans as a whole have been downright negligent in addressing the needs of American children, and now we have President Bush threatening to veto an expansion of health care coverage for uninsured kids under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Meanwhile, the Children’s Defense Fund has a post up reporting new data indicating that in 2006 more than 700,000 children were added to the uninsured — more than double the increase from 2004-5.
The proposed $50 billion expansion in funding for the SCHIP program in the House of Reps. version would insure millions more vulnerable American children. It would cost what taxpayers shell out to pay for 5 months for the Iraq quagmire, according to the latest figures of the Congressional Budget Office (Some observers believe $10 billion per month is less than half of the real cost).
So far, Senator Dodd has probably been the leading advocate for children in the U.S. Senate, and all of the Democratic presidential candidates supported SCHIP increases and other health and welfare initiatives to help children. By raising the well-being of children from a continuing concern to a top priority, Dems can not only help solidify progressive support, but also win some votes from moderates and other swing voters who have the compassion and/or good economic sense to help children in need.
As I wrote about last month, placing political ads linked to search terms on widely used web sites is a smart and rapidly growing practice. But you do have to be careful about the inadvertant associations such ads sometimes create, as Barack Obama’s campaign has just learned.
A reporter for the New York Sun happened to notice that an Obama ad appeared as a “sponsored link” on the Amazon.com page for The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, the highly controversial book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt that some observers have claimed reflects ancient anti-semitic conspiracy theories. Whatever you think of the book, it’s definitely not one that a candidate for president (unless Pat Buchanan runs again) would want to snuggle up to.
Contacted by the Sun, the Obama campaign quickly took down the ad and foreswore any endorsement of the Mearsheimer/Walt book.
The Amazon ads are run by a subsidiary of the retailer called Clickriver, which associates advertisements with keywords that customers use to search for products on the Amazon website. The Obama camp purchased “politics” as a keyword, and thus, their ad got placed beside lots of political books — one of which happened to be particularly controversial. The whole thing was done by computer and was obviously unintentional and unavoidable.
This is going to happen more and more often. And who knows what the reaction will be next time? But when an algorithm determines the link between content and an advertisement without any human input — what’s a campaign to do? You might think to avoid the situation altogether, but that’s the wrong answer.
Here and now, I think we need to decide on a rule — when computers fail to anticipate a controversy, we don’t blame campaigns. Through the course of a modern election, there will be plenty of times when candidates legitimately stumble — an operative will develop foot-in-mouth disease, a senator will fall off a stage, or a nominee will completely underestimate the importance of an attack and go a solid month without refuting the charges. These are the times at which a media circus will be quasi-justifiable. But not when an innocuous ad is automatically linked to a contentious book.
By the time of the president’s “address to the nation” on Iraq tomorrow night, it should be apparent to just about everyone that the man is in the process of executing a bait-and-switch tactic on the war that is truly breathtaking in its audacity and cynicism.
There are two major aspects to the bait-and-switch. The first and most obvious is that whatever else it represented, the “surge” was designed to make it possible for Bush to embrace the possibility of troop withdrawals from Iraq without changing course or actually reducing troop levels. The fact that Bush’s best-case scenario is now a return to pre-surge troop levels exposes the circular nature of the whole exercise.
Secondly, the administration has managed to turn David Petraeus into the alleged architect of Bush’s entire war policy. He was sent to Iraq to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign designed to produce a political breakthrough. His “report” to Congress unsurprisingly noted that since no such breakthrough had occurred, he’d have to continue it for an indefinite period if people expected it to produce political gains. Now Bush is about to “embrace” the “Petraeus Plan” for military action, as though it’s some sort of end in itself. Thus, he’s offloading responsibility for his war policies to the military.
It’s hard to imagine these tactics will have any significant effect on public opinion at large, or on Democrats and independents, other than a gullible few. But all the hype about the surge has clearly boosted support levels for Bush’s Iraq policies among conservative “base” voters, which has in turn helped prevent nervous Republican members of Congress from leaving the reservation. More ominously, the “surge” campaign has had a large effect on the GOP presidential contest, in which the candidates are now falling over each other in bellicose “victory” language about Iraq, despite earlier expectations that they’d find ways to distance themselves from this political albatross. Indeed, the emerging role of one-time frontrunner John McCain in this campaign is to serve as a commissar who will sic right-wing media and angry “base” voters on any candidate who dares to inch away from the Iraq disaster.
And finally, there’s the distinct possibility that Bush’s latest Iraq gambit will lead to a major split among Democrats over how, exactly, to respond, since no one can even begin to pretend any longer that Bush will himself change course.
All in all, the sheer perversity of Bush’s political strategy on Iraq has to make you wonder if it was the final, diabolical gift of Karl Rove.
The problem that Democratic presidential candidates not named Hillary are having in dealing with her husband’s legacy, and presence, on the campaign trail is a perennially interesting topic. I’ve written about the varying approaches of Edwards and Obama to their “Clinton problem,” with Edwards recently essaying a full-frontal assault on Clintonism (by clear inference rather than by name), and Obama choosing a “that was then, this is now” generational-change argument. This is also the topic of a large new Ryan Lizza piece in The New Yorker.
Lizza adds quite a bit of insider reporting about the quandry these candidates (and HRC herself) are in concerning Bill Clinton’s outsized political persona. He attributes Edwards’ anti-Clintonism gambit to adviser Joe Trippi, one of the few major Democratic strategists with no ties to the Clintons, and presumably a man who had something to do with Howard Dean’s effort in 2003-4 to diss Clintonism without unduly offending Bill Clinton.
Reading Lizza, I kept getting a nagging deja vu sensation about the Edwards and Obama strategies towards Clinton. And it finally hit me: back in December of 1997, Dick Gephardt and Ted Kennedy delivered back-to-back, dueling speeches representing alternative liberal takes on Clintonism that in many respects anticipated the Edwards and Obama approaches.
Gephardt’s speech, delivered at the Kennedy School, was much trumpeted at the time as a testing-the-waters effort to see if the Gepster could launch a 2000 presidential challenge to Al Gore based on a repudiation of Clinton’s “Republican Lite”, “triangulating” heresies against traditional liberalism by a champion of the Democratic Base. It came after a 1996 campaign in which Clinton’s signing of welfare reform legislation, and his pointed differences of opinion with House Democrats on policy and political strategy, were often blamed by the latter for causing their failure to retake the House. And it also came immediately after House Democrats had inflicted a rare defeat on Clinton, who lost his bid for “fast-track” trade negotiating authority. But the speech bombed, and Gephardt got barbecued for being unnecessarily divisive.
Kennedy’s speech, at the National Press Club, was widely considered a response to Gephardt (and indeed, one story has it that Clinton specifically asked Kennedy to do it). He began with a ringing defense of Clinton’s accomplishments up to that point, and then, without missing a beat, he went into a recitation of a liberal agenda for the future that was basically the same as Gephardt’s. Reading it at the time, I imagined I could see Teddy winking and saying, “See, Dick? That’s how you do it.” And indeed, Kennedy’s basic approach to Clintonism was to say: “That was then; this is now.”
Franklin Foer, in the article I linked to above (the only thing I’ve been able to find on the internet that discussed both speeches), reported the juiciest tidbit of all about Gephardt and Kennedy’s “warring” approaches to a liberal critique of Clintonism: the principal wordsmith in both was apparently Bob Shrum, who has far exceeded Joe Trippi in having a successful Democratic consulting career without involvement with the Clintons.
There’s one living link between the Gephardt and Edwards assaults on Clintonism: David Bonior, who in 1997 was Gephardt’s deputy in the House Democratic leadership, and who today is chairman of John Edwards’ campaign. Actually, Trippi may be a second, since he worked for Gephardt’s 1988 campaign, and also for Jerry Brown’s left-bent late primary challenge to Clinton in 1992,
But the differences between yesterday’s and today’s Democratic critics of Clintonism are as instructive as the similarities.
Like anyone else who writes for publication on- or off-line, I feel an obligation to say something about a subject–the sixth anniversary of 9/11–about which all the obvious points have already been made by people far more eloquent than me. I was also initially reluctant to write about politics on a 9/11 anniversary, but given the heavy politicization of that event during the past six years, that seems to be a bit cowardly. So while remembering and mourning the victims of 9/11, and also remembering the obligation to do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen again, I’d like to mention the role of that event in what has been a decade of monumental public events in the United States.
Think about it. Since 1998, we’ve witnessed the first presidential impeachment since the 1860s, the first presidential election to go into “overtime” since the 1870s; the first attack on the continental United States since 1812; the first major preemptive “war of choice” in U.S. history; and the first televised destruction of an American city. I don’t mean to equate any of these non-9/11 occurances with what we witnessed that day, but it has been an extraordinary span of time.
If you want to truly understand why Democrats (especially those whose entire formative political experience has been the last decade) are so often “angry,” remember the behavior of the leadership of the Republican Party in all of the non-9/11 events I’ve mentioned. And then remember what the president and vice president have done to destroy the national unity and worldwide symphathy this country enjoyed just after 9/11, typically viewing domestic unity and global approval with ill-disguised contempt.
I’m not one of those who is interested in blaming George W. Bush or Dick Cheney for allowing 9/11 to occur. I will will never get confused into thinking that any American politician, even the worst, can be remotely compared in moral depravity or fanaticism with 9/11’s perpetrators. And I don’t want to blame all Republicans for their leadership’s vices, any more than I would excuse any Democrats from the responsibility to demonstrate positive virtue.
But what motivates me to ask Republicans as well as everyone else to reflect on this subject is the simple fact that with the Tom DeLay class of congressional Republicans gone or in disgrace, and Bush and Cheney’s departure from office growing nigh, we’re now witnessing a presidential nominating contest in the GOP wherein most candidates are competing to show how avidly, even defiantly, they’d continue the current administration’s worst habits and policies, including its politicization of terrorist threats and efforts to impugn the patriotism of critics.
I’d love to see the day when genuine “bipartisanship” is occasionally possible, within the context of a vibrant, principled party system. But that won’t be happen so long as we accept, much less seek to emulate, national leaders capable of using the kind of bipartisanship we briefly saw six years ago as little more than a political capital fund in the pursuit of raw, partisan power.
In her American Prospect article “The Missing Measure of Our Outrage,” Courtney E. Martin repeats a frequently-asked question about public attitudes toward the war in Iraq, “Why haven’t we been more outraged? And if we have, why hasn’t it manifested in desperate action?” And later in the article, her question is boiled down to the inevitable “What the hell do we do?”
It’s the right question, much better than simply whining and griping about lousy elected officials.
I’ve heard this same question asked in different ways in various conversations several times over the last year or so. Martin’s article does tap into a sense of helplessness many opponents of the Iraq war, particularly young people, feel about what they can do to help end this horrific quagmire.
There is still plenty of apathy. As she points out, many people seem to be tuning out the Iraq War because it hasn’t yet touched their families in readily discernable ways (although, hello, 10 percent of the federal budget is now being spent on Iraq-related outlays, and that touches every family). For another, there is a sort of “ostrich reflex” where war is concerned, a denial-like tendency to tune out what is ugly and brutal.
But what Martin is getting at is not the same thing as apathy. Many people who do care and who feel a sense of outrage also share in feelings of political impotence. Martin is more concerned about what more those who oppose the war can do.
I often hear expressions of regret that we’re not seeing so many of the big anti-war demos and marches that characterized the Vietnam era. I took part in quite a few of those large demos. As a practical matter, however, I would rather have a half-million people visit the offices of their elected representatives, ask for a meeting and appeal for an end to the war than have a half-million protesters have a rally in downtown Washington, and then have all that time and energy evaporate into a feel-good exercise with little follow-up, as is so often the case. Large demonstrations still have a place in the arsenal of protest, but they are no longer the most powerful means of citizen action, if they ever were.
What the hell do we do? We channel outrage, sweat, toil and money into political work. We face the painful fact that 51 U.S. Senate seats just ain’t enough to stop a war, and we get busy organizing voter registration and education drives and participating in campaigns of anti-war candidates. If we already have a good anti-war voice representing us in Congress and the Senate, we “adopt” an anti-war candidate running a close race in another district and send them a check and/or offer our help (for suggestions, see our posts below on close Senate and House races).
Electioneering is only one part of the political work needed for change. Equally important, yet more often overlooked, is the work of the citizen lobbyist. Yes, the “K Street” corporate lobbyists in D.C. are a powerful force because they have plenty of money to throw at candidates, and we don’t. But they are also powerful because they are there, a constant presence in the halls of congress, and yes, the white house. They stay on top of issues of concern and monitor every single vote that bears on the profit margins of their companies. That commitment we can emulate. Their strength is their money, which we can’t match. Our strength is our numbers, which they can’t match.
No, we can’t all live in Washington. But we can all become a familiar presence in the district offices back home. Petition campaigns, rallies and the like are all helpful. But there is no substitute for personal visits – getting in the faces of our elected officials. If that isn’t possible, we can be a ‘presence’ through phone calls, emails, text messages, faxes or snail mail. Contact members of Congress and ask for a response. If they don’t provide one in reasonable period of time, badger them relentlessly until they do. The point is to take up so much of their time and refuse to go away until they get it that addressing our concerns will actually be easier than ignoring us. We must stay on elected officials, because even the better ones will backslide if we give them enough wiggle-room.
None of this will come as a revelation for the already politically-engaged. But maybe there is a need for more training programs and workshops for citizen-activists. Perhaps local Democratic parties and community-based organizations could help with this. There is no good reason for bright young people to feel powerless.
What the hell can we do? We can do a hell of a lot — with enough personal commitment.
Linda Hirshman (yes, the self-same Linda Hirshman who recently roiled progressive circles with her critique of “choice feminism”) has a new piece up on the New Republic’s website arguing that Democrats—a party she says is living without an organizing principle—need to re-embrace both the word and the underlying philosophy of liberalism.
I think most Democrats sense the void of which Hirshman writes, despite recent electoral success. If you don’t know what I mean, try asking a newly minted candidate what it means to be a Democrat and see if you don’t get a list of programs (or even ideas!) instead of a governing philosophy. What people may not realize it the detriment that brings to day-to-day Democratic governance.
“Rather than embrace this bedrock commitment, however, Democrats shy away from it. The best example of this failure is their talk about the cost of health care,” Hirshman writes. “Most sensible analysts agree that, even with efficiencies of scale, any of the Democrats’ health care plans is going to cost more than it saves. So the dreaded government is going to have to use its taxing power.”
It’s not just health care. Democrats frequently have a great, liberal idea…that costs money. But instead of balancing it with other priorities and then telling people how much this new thing they want is going to cost, we bend to the conservative governing philosophy. We try to conceal the cost, do it on the cheap, or make it look like a painless trade-off.
But it never is painless. Programs implemented this way—even the really popular ones—end up costing more than we said and not working as well. Every Communications 101 class learns about “managing expectations”; not dealing forthrightly with the costs of our ideas and moral and philosophical reasons for them sets expectations at a place that will always leave the American people disappointed.
Recent conversations about our national infrastructure are a great opportunity to talk openly in the language of collective action to solve a national problem. Our aging bridges and roads represent an asset that should be benefit us all and a problem we need to deal with together. (Anti-tax crusaders should be referred immediately to examples of what happens to economic growth when these problems are ignored.) Call it a liberalism moment.
But remember, if we are going to reclaim the “brand,” that liberalism has many edges, some of them no more perfectly consistent with “left” than with “centrist” perspectives. The ambiguous legacy of liberalism is one reason, along with its demonization by the Right, that contemporary “progressives” aren’t always comfortable with it.
This is being referred to as Petraeus Week by many in Washington, with the General’s testimony (along with that of U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker) to Congress being the long awaited focal point. And in anticipation of this well-previewed event, we’ve seen some predictable lines of attack, with many antiwar Democrats hotly disputing Petraeus’ sunny-side-up assessment of the “surge” and its alleged impact on levels of violence in Iraq, and many conservatives claiming Democrats hate the armed services and don’t care what they have to say about the military situation.
Speaking not as an Iraq specialist, but simply as someone who has observed D versus R national security dynamics for a long time, I’m getting a bit worried that Dems are behaving as though Petraeus’ military assessment is the ball game in determining what happens next in Iraq. If it’s not discredited, some seem to assume, then the case for getting out of Iraq somehow crumbles.
Here’s a pretty simple series of questions that Dems ought to ask in the wake of this testimony: Wasn’t the whole point of the “surge” to make quick progress towards a political settlement in Iraq possible? Doesn’t everyone pretty much admit that no such progress has been made, whether or not the security environment has improved? If that’s right, and it is, then how much does it really matter (other than for humanitarian reasons) whether or not violence has gone marginally up or marginally down, or (as seems likely) has been temporarily shifted from one battleground to others? Indeed, if an “improved” security situation has had no material effect on the sectarian civil war in Iraq (and to address the peculiar talking point we keeping hearing from the Right, turning some Sunni tribes into enemies of Al Qaeda in Iraq has little real impact on the Sunni-Shi’a stalemate), isn’t that actually an argument for the hypothesis that offensive military engagement by the U.S. is no longer defensible?
Maybe I’m missing something, but Petraeus’ military assessment seems pretty irrelevant to me. And making challenges to his credibility as a military leader the be-all and end-all of Iraq War criticism strikes me as a mistake. Perhaps the right response to his testimony would be a shrug rather than a shriek. The war can never be “won,” and will inevitably be “lost” if Iraqis can’t reach a political settlement. They certainly can’t and won’t so long as we are involved in combat operations in their country. And the events of the last six month, whatever else they show, do show that abundantly.
They must be doing the Happy Dance over at the DSCC, with the Hagel retirement announcement added to those of Sens. Warner and (likely) Craig. With the right candidates, Dems should be able to win at least 2 out of 3 of these seats. MyDD‘s Senate2008guru has the latest run-down on some key races, with lotsa links providing more information. Charles Babington of the Associated Press also has a good wrap-up of the ’08 Senate campaign’s latest scuttlebut and points out that investigations of Republican Sens. Stevens and Domenici are underway. Babington adds:
Meanwhile, anti-war sentiment is giving Democrats serious hopes of denying re-election to Republican senators in competitive states including New Hampshire, Maine, Minnesota and Oregon.
Paul Bedard of U.S. News reports that former Governor Jean Shaheen is leading John Sununu in NH by more than 25 points in recent polls. DSCC Chair Chuck Schumer conceeds that a lot can happen in the 14 months ahead. For now, however, the ’08 Senate race big picture is beginning to look very sweet indeed.
Chris Cillizza’s “The Fix” (WaPo) has an interesting ranking of the ” top ten House races.” Cillizza doesn’t spell out his criteria, except to say that #1 was chosen because it is “most likely to switch parties in 2008.”
According to Cillizza, They are, in order: CO-4; KS-2; CA-11; TX-22; GA-8; FL-16; AZ-1; OH-15; CA-4 and; VA-11, with half of the districts in Cilliza’s list currently held by each party.
It would be wrong to infer from the list that Republicans are more or less even with Dems in congressional races. The most current opinion poll shows Dems with a strong and growing lead in generic House races. The latest Rasmussen telephone survey (conducted 9/4) shows Dems with an 18 point lead in the generic congressional ballot, up from 10 points a month ago. A George Washington University Battleground Poll, conducted by the Tarrance Group (R) and Lake Research Partners (D) 7/15-18, found that likely voters preferred the Democratic candidate in their congressional district by a margin of 7 percent. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll, conducted 6/22-24, showed a similar (8 point) lead. MyDD’s Jonathan Singer has calculated the average of seven recent generic congressional ballot polls, and concludes:
Although the margins have shifted from month to month, probably as a result of statistical noise, the overall appearance of the poll has been remarkably stable, with the Democrats varying within 2.5 points above or below 47.5 percent and the Republicans varying within 3 points above or below 35 percent.
Cilliza’s topic is really more along the lines of each Party’s “five best chances for pick-ups,” not the “most competitive” races. He provides some link-rich insights about each race, and some of the more than 170 readers submitting comments about particular races disagree with his facts and/or analysis. (Wading through such lengthy comments is a chore, but it does yield some perceptive insights and useful information for political strategy).
House race junkies will find another useful resource in Wikipedia’s House “Race Tracker 2008,” which links to state by state, then district run-downs identifying candidates and their announced opponents, with district maps and links to pertinent state and local websites.
Late in the evening of the special election in PA-18 Tuesday night, before it was clear Democrat Conor Lamb had won, I offered some reflections at New York
While we don’t yet have a clear winner in this election, we do have a clear loser: the Republican Party. This was, as I argued some time ago, the “no-excuses” special election for the GOP. This congressional district is strongly Republican and strongly pro-Trump. Saccone wasn’t a perfect candidate, but he wasn’t a disaster like Roy Moore, either: He had enough outside money and enough get-out-the-vote help from the national party and conservative groups to counteract anything Lamb could throw at him. Plus, he had massive support from the president, his family, and his administration, in an iconic Trump Country district that almost perfectly typified the Rust Belt areas that decided the presidency. If Lamb wins, it will represent a historic disaster for the GOP. If Saccone wins, it will still send a stark warning sign to the majority party in the House as we head toward November.
Republican message-meister Frank Luntz put it plainly this evening:
Whatever the outcome tonight, #PA18 is an extremely bad omen for the @GOP.
Make no mistake: It is a leaning Republican district that is leaning no more.
Yes, this is a special election; some might imagine that in a regular election, such as the one in November, more Republican voters will show up. The problem with that hypothesis is that turnout today was at full midterm levels. There’s no reason to think turnout patterns in November will be more favorable for the GOP, particularly given the massive Trump administration attention that this district got during this contest.
Another Republican rationalization we have already heard from the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito is that Conor Lamb is not a real Democrat (because he was nominated by a convention and didn’t have to win the votes of left-bent primary voters), and thus his performance does not show how real Democrats will do in November. But, by any standard, Saccone is a real Republican who ran more than ten points behind the normal GOP vote in Pennsylvania’s 18th district. And Lamb was lifted to parity with Saccone by the very same labor movement — battered and diminished as it is — that will be fighting for Democrats in swing districts all over the country. Dismiss labor, dismiss energized rank-and-file Democrats, and dismiss the ability of the Donkey Party to find suitable candidates like Lamb, and you’re well on the way to underestimating the likelihood of a Democratic wave in November.
Yes, a lot of things can change between now and then. But we are now seeing a regular pattern of Democratic over-performance in special elections — whether they ultimately win or lose — spanning the entire Trump administration so far. This election may just be another data point among many, but put them together and they unambiguously show big trouble for Trump and his party. To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if they can’t make it there (in southwest Pennsylvania), they can’t make it anywhere. And it’s time they woke up and smelled the bitter coffee.
As of this writing, Saccone still hasn’t conceded, despite his cause looking hopeless. But it could be some time before his party recovers from this one.